If market intelligence firm IDC’s predictions bear out, 2018 is the year that digital transformation will shift from a vision to a necessity for businesses striving to maintain a competitive advantage.

Disruption (albeit to varying degrees) will be commonplace across a raft of sectors, as cognitive systems, IoT, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality continue to broaden the scope of an organisation’s digital journey, bringing change and opportunity, as well as complexity. Along with the cloud, Big Data analytics, social business and mobility, how internal talent and the resources available manage this innovation will determine how effectively the potential can be harnessed.

This development puts the onus on the attraction and retention of core technical skills, as well as the need for systems that drive real-time, data-driven decision-making in an easy to use and secure manner. This becomes an increasingly integral foundation from which to deliver the seamless customer experience now expected, assuring accessibility, personalisation and omni-engagement pre, during and post transaction.

It’s the type of demand that cannot be met on a reactive, piecemeal basis. Instead, an organisation needs to be living and breathing the same level of flexibility and innovation that should underpin its service offering, enabling it to act immediately on the information available so that instant answers become the new normal.

This means that digital transformation needs to be embraced both technically and culturally, facilitated by the choice of analytic tools and platforms employed and brought to life by the team’s behaviours. From a technical perspective, this goes beyond simply implementing business intelligence tools, to instead securing a level of interconnection which spans every element of the business, both on and off cloud to augment intelligence and create a seamless and cohesive eco system.

Here, sophisticated and intuitive systems will highlight processes in an easy-to-understand ‘visual language’ which in turn fosters collaboration across teams and opportunity for organisation-wide feedback. Only through greater accessibility can analytics be opened to a far wider demographic and integrated into day-to-day business operations and decisions, so it becomes part of the organisation’s DNA. This fuels the momentum that generates more value, impact and empowers the wider workforce. Crucially, more easily-derived and better understood insight gives us context, something that is vital to better understanding customers, their motivations and is the foundation of a truly customer centric culture.

But the mechanics are only part of the equation. Fostering an open culture where people are encouraged to ask questions, share ideas if they find a problem or think of a way to do things better in the first place, as well as being trusted and equipped to drive their own decision-making, can be one of the greatest challenges of all facing a business. As an ethos, it is contrary to the heavily siloed and hierarchical approaches that have defined the traditional workplace for so long, but this needs to be remedied.

Pockets of the business that do not talk to each other or share valuable insight can be just as damaging, as legacy systems that are no longer compatible with the latest technology. It’s why for an example, data scientists need to be business savvy as well as technical experts, able to ‘get’ business needs and not be divorced from the wider organisation.

Analytics are indeed the perfect complement to business logic, and have a vital role to play in improving it, as they enhance an understanding of both the organisation and the market that comes from seeing the big picture. Reaping optimal rewards, however, demands deft application. No software can expect to fulfil its promise operating in silos of the business or without a defined strategy and clearly identified issues and opportunities to act upon.

An organisation’s leadership has a pivotal role to play in ensuring there are no human barriers to digital transformation. The work begins by communicating change and new processes in a straightforward and accessible manner that is understood at all levels of the organisation. Crucial to this, is successfully demonstrating how strategy, technology, and analytics are interconnected as one coherent ecosystem.

Digital transformation inevitably signals disruption and a shift to more fluid start up-style business models. In short, it’s a learning curve that demands experimentation and resources, something that effective leaders must encourage if the full potential is to be reaped. Only by empowering employees to understand, decide, and act on this data can you leverage the workforce’s collective intelligence to make a tangible difference to all levels of the business.